Ciutat Vella, the old town of Barcelona
Surely, neighborhoods for the old town of Barcelona are the most visited by tourists. Ciutat Vella, besides being an architectural showcase with a historical and cultural heritage of impressive size, it is one of the main restaurants and places to have drinks in the city. The number of alternative shops, bohemian atmosphere and rich cultural offerings, make the Ciutat Vella one of the main attractions of Barcelona.
Ciutat Vella (old town in Catalan), is a district that consists of 4 neighborhoods. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the far south of the city and adjacent to Plaça de Catalunya, Plaça Universitat and Plaça Urquinaona in the north.
You will be able to stroll nearly throughout the entire district of Ciutat Vella in daytime as it is full of shops with alternative products, of clothing and accessories, footwear, furniture, etc., and you will not be short of places to eat or have a drink.
The streets of Ciutat Vella are considered a must-see to discover Barcelona and you should seriously contemplate them in your visit to the city.
The four quarters of Ciutat Vella
The district covered by the old town is divided into four neighborhoods. On the one hand the Raval, a neighborhood with a rich multicultural environment with a strong bid to cultural spaces. You also have the Gothic Quarter with its special architecture and its wonderful shopping streets. Third is the neighborhood of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera, a neighborhood where the Born is, the most popular and very bohemian part of the quarter, and fourthly and finally we have the Barceloneta, a beachy neighborhood and the most maritime of Ciutat Vella, where you will find restaurants, swimmers and people surfing on the beach or strolling along the promenade.
In this article dedicated to Ciutat Vella you will find an overview of the Old Town district and a descriptive summary of each of the 4 quarters. For detailed information about each of them, as well as the main places that you should consider during your visit to this part of Barcelona, we recommend to read articles describing each of these four areas in particular. There you will find listed the main points of interest.
You have the links below:
Between the Rambla and the Parallel street is the Raval, which corresponds to the former Chinatown of Barcelona, the typical brothel quarter of port cities, now completely renovated and that has successfully bet, among other things, on cultural spaces offering.
In this part of Ciutat Vella, is the Boqueria Market, the Liceu Grand Theatre, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona (MACBA) and the Centre for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona (CCCB) among other places of interest.
Lovers of Art Nouveau architecture can visit the Güell Palace, which was the first major commission to the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, commissioned by Eusebi Güell.
The former convent of Sant Agustí, that today remains only the church, and the monastery of Sant Pau del Camp are some of the places that you should also visit if you're in the Raval.
If you stroll, you'll find many alternative and vintage clothing shops, as well as the artisans market on the Rambla del Raval at weekends. In the lower part of the Raval, there are the Royal Shipyards of Barcelona, which are the seat of the Maritime Museum, a museum free on Sunday afternoons.
The Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is bounded by the Ramblas and Via Laietana, it has its entrance by Catalonia Square through one of the most important shopping streets of Barcelona, Portal de l’Àngel. Here you can find many clothing and shoe shops, as well as fashion and accessories and a seat of El Corte Ingles, the biggest department store in Spain.
The Cathedral of Barcelona is also located in the Gothic Quarter and also the Barcelona City Council, the Church of St. Anna and the Esglesia del Pi (Church of the Pine).
We suggest you to walk down the Bisbe street (Bishop Street) or the Ferran street, both overlooking the Sant Jaume square and discover this fabulous Old Town district.
In the Gothic Quarter you will also find the Plaça del Rei (the King Square), wherein is the headquarters of the Barcelona City History Museum (MUHBA) with a spectacular archaeological site in the subsoil.
It is also found in this part of Ciutat Vella, the old Jewish quarter of Barcelona, El Call, where you will have the opportunity to discover the charm of its old streets and you can visit one of the oldest synagogues in Europe.
Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera
It is divided into three sub quarters being possibly the Ribera and the Born the most popular areas, perhaps due to its large amount of entertainment oriented establishments such as restaurants or bars, to its bohemian atmosphere, or to the number and type of commercial establishments.
In the Born you will find many art galleries, restaurants and nightlife bars.
HappyBarcelona.eu recommends you to visit the former Born Market completely restored, that exposes a an archeological site corresponding to the medieval Barcelona in what is now the Born Centre Cultural, near the Basilica of Santa María del Mar.
Depending on where you come from, you can take the Princesa or Montcada streets to continue discovering this beautiful part of Barcelona.
But it is not only the Born. The rest of the neighborhood, deserves likewise a visit and you will find real gems of Barcelona's heritage as the Palau de la Música Catalana (Catalan Music Palace), designed by the architect Lluís Domenech i Montaner, in the neighborhood of Sant Pere, and the Santa Caterina Market in the neighborhood which gets its name, where you can visit a small archaeological site of the ancient convent of Santa Caterina through the MUHBA museum.
The fourth neighborhood corresponding to Ciutat Vella, La Barceloneta, is popularly known because of its tapas and paella restaurants attending always to the locals themselves.
Although that the supply of beaches of Barcelona has increased considerably since the urban redevelopment of the Olympic Games in 1992, the beach of the Barceloneta remains one of the most visited in summer. It is common, in addition to swimmers, see surfers or artists making sand figures on the beach.
In addition to relax with pleasant walks near the sea in the Barceloneta you can visit the Church of San Miguel del Puerto, of Baroque style.
The main streets of the old town of Barcelona
In the vertical direction (perpendicular to the sea), we can consider these streets as the most relevant for those interested in visiting the old town.
It is one of the most famous streets of the city. La Rambla de Barcelona communicates Catalonia Square with the Port Vell (old port), while separates two of the four districts of Ciutat Vella. On the western side is the Raval while in the east, is the Gothic Quarter.
In the Rambla you can visit the Canaletes Fountain, which is said, if you drink the water you will return to Barcelona. Halfway up is the Boqueria market, one of the most important markets in the world, close to the Liceu Grand Theater.
In the far south of this tourist street is the Port Vell, that you'll recognize when you get the Viewpoint of Columbus, the point where the Bosch i Alsina wharf (popularly known as the Moll de la Fusta) begins, and the Rambla del Mar that takes you to the Maremagnum and to the Aquarium.
In the Rambla, are the human statues, some truly amazing with whom you can shoot, and the trileros, which are swindlers who have spent many years operating in the Rambles taking advantage of tourists.
Undoubtedly it should be in the top ten places you must visit in Barcelona.
Portal de l’Angel
It is a semi-pedestrian street which can be taken from Catalonia street. Through Portal de l’Angel you shalt come into the Gothic quarter.
This is one of the most commercial streets of the city, which you will see for the large number of commercial establishments as well as the large number of people strolling and looking into the shop windows.
On its top you can visit the Church of Santa Anna, an old beautiful Gothic convent, if you take the street bearing the same name.
If you continue down, you will reach the Cathedral, the Church of Pine (Esglesia del Pi), Saint James Square, where the town council and other places in the Gothic Quarter are, depending on which streets you decide to walk.
Via Laietana communicates Urquinaona square with the Port Vell and the Barceloneta neighborhood. Like the Rambla, the street separates two neighborhoods of the old town. On its eastern side there is Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera, while at the west is the Gothic Quarter.
Walking down this street, you will pass very close to the square where the cathedral is, one of the most visited areas of the Gothic Quarter, and a little further down, at the height of the metro stop named Jaume I, on the right, you will enter also into the Gothic to get to the Plaça de Sant Jaume which is where the City of Barcelona and the Catalonia Government Palace are, but you can also go to the left, ie into the Ribera to take the Princesa or the Argentería streets, the latter one takes you to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
If you continue down Via Laietana to the end, you will arrive at an intersection from different streets quite large. Eastwards (down left) is the Passeig de Isabel II, where you can visit the Estació de França Art Nouveau train station, and beyond arrive at the Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park) and at the Barcelona Zoo.
On the other hand, to the west, is the Port Vell (old port) with the Passeig de Colón, the Moll de la Fusta and the Spain wharf. At the bottom of all, where the monument to Christopher Columbus is, there is the lower part of the Rambla.
If instead of turning east or west, you proceed straight along Via Laietana, you will reach the Barceloneta neighborhood and will pass by the Museum of History of Catalonia.
Passeig Lluís Companys
It is already on the eastern edge of Ciutat Vella, just where the Arc de Triomphe of Barcelona is.
Assuming you stroll from the north to the south, before arriving at the Parc de la Ciutadella, you can take at the right hand side, the street named Comerç, that leads at the Chocolate Museum and at the archaeological site of medieval Barcelona in the Born Centre Cultural, the old market.
If you walk south, you will enter into the Citadel Park and if you continue along the park, you will arrive at the main door of the Barcelona Zoo.
If you walk out the square where the Zoo door is, to the west, you will arrive at the France Station (Estació de França) so you can make a short stop in this beautiful station, which HappyBarcelona.eu advised to visit, especially for architecture lovers.
Passeig de Picasso
This is the street with arcades which is in the west side of the Citadel Park.
From this street you can head west, and take the Princesa street, which crosses the Montcada street, which takes you to the Cathedral of the Sea and where they are, among others the Picasso Museum and the Mammoth Museum, two of the many museums you can visit in Ciutat Vella.
Halfway up Passeig de Picasso and westward, you can visit the Born Centre Cultural, the name given today to the former Born Market, where it is exposed, as mentioned above, a site of Medieval Barcelona.
The Paral.lel Avenue is the street that is on the western edge of the old town, where the Sants-Montjuïc district begins and usually, except the fragment closer to the sea, no longer belongs to the Ciutat Vella district.
The Parallel avenue communicates Spain Square with the Port Vell (old port), and at the closest side to the port there are the Royal Shipyards of Barcelona, where is located the Maritime Museum, one of the many free museums open on Sunday afternoon.
Although strictly speaking, they belong to the old town only those in the Raval side and at the last segment of this Barcelona street, it is worth mentioning the nightclubs and theaters that are approximately up to the Nou de la Rambla street, before reaching the old port which have brought fame to Barcelona’s Parallel avenue.
If you are around that area, you're pretty close to the Sant Pau del Camp Monastery and the Rambla del Raval.
The Port Vell (The Old Port)
This is the old port of Barcelona and is undoubtedly an area which HappyBarcelona.eu recommends you to have a walk. You will find it at the Rambla’s closest part to the sea, where the Columbus Viewpoint is.
In addition to the viewpoint, you can stroll along the Bosch i Alsina wharf, popularly known as the Moll de la Fusta or the Passeig de Colón, you can cross the Rambla del Mar bridge and get to the Spain Wharf, where the Aquarium of Barcelona with its sharks and the Maremagnum are, a mall open 365 days a year, and the IMAX Port Vell, a cinema with a surrounding giant screen where you can watch documentaries and movies in 3D.
In the Portal de la Pau square you will see the Golondrinas mooring, a type of tourist boat to take boat trips around the harbor and along the coast of Barcelona, if you want you can be transported to the Parc del Forum on the other side of the city.
How to get to Ciutat Vella
It is very easy to get to the historic center of Barcelona. The starting point may be perfectly Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia square), a meeting point widely used by people, among other things, for being the best connected place in Barcelona.
From the square, everything you’ll find if you look southbound, forms part of Ciutat Vella.
Although it is a very brief description, if from Plaça de Catalunya you locate the Rambla, you've located the border between the Gothic Quarter and the Raval. If You locate Portal de l’Àngel, you'll be in front of the main avenue that goes into the Gothic, and if you locate the building of El Corte Inglés, you can go to Urquinaona Square, which is on the other side of the block, where you will see Via Laietana street. This street divides the neighborhood of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera with the Gothic Quarter, and if you continue straight down Via Laietana to the end, you will reach the Barceloneta quarter.
How to get to Ciutat Vella by metro
Barcelona's Old Town is a district made up of four quarters, which covers an area of the city where you will find quite a few subway stops belonging to different lines. Choosing one or another depends on the specific point of the district you want to visit.
The metro stations to get to Ciutat Vella
Catalunya metro stop (lines L1 and L3) is in the same square. It is ideal if you do not know Barcelona and want to delve for the first time through the streets of the old town, especially along the Rambla or Portal de l’Àngel.
In University Square is the stop called Universitat, with L1 and L2 subway lines. It is also a very good choice for a first visit, and you can get the Rambla strolling down the Pelaio street up to Plaça de Catalunya. To get off at Plaza Universitat is fabulous if you intend to visit the Raval quarter starting your walk from the top.
In Urquinaona square there are the L1 and L4 metro lines, which bears the same name Urquinaona. It can be useful if you want to take a walk to the end of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera, or visit the Arc de Triomphe taking a short stroll. It is also a good choice if you want to walk down Via Laietana street.
But if you want to visit the edge where the Arc de Triomphe and the Passeig de Picasso are, we recommend you to get off at the stop called Arc de Triomf (metro line L1). This station is ideal if you are with children and you want to visit the Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park) or want to get to the Zoo. On this station also stop many local trains.
If you are interested in a subway station that drops you near the Port Vell, we recommend you to get off at Drassanes (from L3 line), which is in the lower part of the Ramblas, near the Royal Shipyards, the Columbus Viewpoint or the Wax Museum and its cafe, el Bosc de les Fades, and also close to the Rambla del Mar and the Spain Wharf, so you can get to the Aquarium or to the Maremagnum.
To get to the Port Vell but on the other side, you can also get off at the stop, which is called Barceloneta, belonging to L4 line. It will be fine for visit the Estació de França, the Born neighborhood, which is the most bohemian part of the district of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera and the Spain Wharf. Although the Barceloneta stop will be also fine to visit this beachside suburb of the Old Town.
If you want to visit the Raval, you can get off at the Liceu stop from metro line L3, as it leaves you halfway up the Ramblas, just where the Liceu Grand Theatre and the Boqueria market are, although as it has been discussed above you can also get off at University Square with L1 and L2 lines.
Alternatively, to visit what once was Barcelona's Chinatown, is to get off at the station named Paral.lel from L2 and L3 metro lines. This subway stop is at the height of the Nou de la Rambla street. From the subway exit, you'll get to the Rambla del Raval walking in less than 10 minutes, passing halfway up by the Sant Pau del Camp Monastery.
The metro stop named Jaume I (line L4) will be fine to get into the Gothic Quarter at the height of the Sant Jaume square where the Town Hall and the Catalan Government are, but it will also serve you well to get into the Ribera as it is up to Princess street and the Argenteria street, so you can easily get to the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar or to the former Born Market and many other parts of the Ribera neighborhood.
Getting Ciutat Vella from Passeig de Gràcia
If you want to stroll through this wonderful Art Nouveau Barcelona street before arriving at the old town, we recommend you to start your journey from the far north, because Ciutat Vella is at its southernmost part.
If you want to go by metro, HappyBarcelona.eu recommends stopping off at the L3 and L5 lines station which is called Diagonal and links to the FGC, and drops you off at Rambla de Catalunya and Passeig de Gràcia, depending on where you go out to the street, but very close to Diagonal street, which is on the highest part.
You can walk south until you reach Catalonia Square, place from which begins the district of Ciutat Vella.
How to get to the old town from Sants Station
Those who are in Sants Station have different ways to get to the Ciutat Vella district.
The best known is to caught in the same station the L3 metro line to get to the metro stops Drassanes, Liceu or Catalunya, which all three are located in the old district.
But from Sants Station you can also get the trains that leave you at the Station of France, and for them you can use the same metro ticket. These trains arrive and depart from the platforms 13 and 14.
By those same platforms, depart also trains that drop you in Passeig de Gràcia, and you can walk about 10 minutes to get to Catalonia Square, and on platform 8 constantly depart trains that leave you in this city center square and in the Arc de Triomf station.
How to get to Ciutat Vella from the Clot
In this case, we recommend you the L1 metro line that leaves you at the Arc de Triomphe, Catalunya or Plaça Universitat stations, although you could also use the commuter trains since this metro station links to the RENFE railway.
The L2 line that also passes by the Clot, will take you to the station in Paral.lel avenue.
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